Infrastructure systems: interdependencies & resilience

National infrastructure systems (energy, transport, water, waste and ICT) in advanced economies face serious challenges including vulnerability to ‘shocks’ from natural and man-made hazards, capacity limitations as well as legacy issues with a number of national infrastructure components nearing the end of their useful life.

On 16 April 2013, CIRIA hosted a seminar that brought together leading professionals from industry, academia and government to discuss these challenges and showcase emerging research and new technologies that aim to embed a new systems-based approach to overcoming the vulnerabilities, or even exploiting the opportunities, associated with interdependencies between infrastructure systems. The event was chaired by Professor John Beckford, Independent Consultant & Visiting Professor at Loughborough University & UCL, and presentations were received as follows:

  • The drivers for a systems-based approach to infrastructure
    Richard Ploszek, Interdependencies Lead, Infrastructure UK (HM Treasury)
  • Infrastructure systems analysis – emerging methodologies
    Professor Tim Broyd, UCL
  • Railways, weather and climate – unlocking opportunities for improved resilience
    John Dora, John Dora Consulting Ltd
  • Supporting critical national infrastructure: the information challenge
    James Robbins, Northumbrian Water
  • Will resource scarcity undermine infrastructure? (& iBUILD overview)
    Prof Phil Purnell, Institute for Resilient Infrastructure, University of Leeds

A presentation was also due to be received from the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), but unfortunately Dr Stuart Barr, University of Newcastle, was unable to attend:

  • A national scale spatial database for infrastructure network interdependence modelling & analysis
    Dr Stuart Barr, University of Newcastle (Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium)

All speakers’ presentations, including from Dr Stuart Barr, are available via the post-event information CIRIA webpage.

The discussion session explored in more detail the forward pipeline of nationally significant infrastructure projects highlighted in Richard Ploszek’s presentation and it was noted that one of the ‘quick wins’ from the setting up of Infrastructure UK and the development of the National Infrastructure Plan, has been that regulatory hurdles associated with co-locating multiple infrastructure services may be overcome for future major projects such as the new high speed rail link, HS2 (whereby the possibility of incorporating new superfast telecom cabling alongside the railway is being considered).

The discussion also covered skills shortages, with delegates questioning what progress had been made in creating the next generation of ‘systems engineers’ following the recommendation of the Engineering the Future report (2011). It was noted that significant investment has been put into new world-leading research centres across the UK and there has been an encouraging amount of industry engagement in this new research.

It was agreed that one of the main challenges will be to overcome silos – within organisations, between organisations and between sectors. Concerns raised identified the lack of a collaborative approach, compounded by varying regulatory control periods between sectors which has restricted private sectors from working together.

In summarising, Prof Beckford noted that the goal of the research and innovation showcased at the event will be to benefit the planning of future infrastructure projects, adding value through reduced engineering costs, enhancing network resilience, mitigating carbon emissions and adapting to climate change. It was suggested that this could be achieved by:

  • an incorporation of systems thinking, through a joint collaboration between physical, digital, geographic and organisational interdependencies
  • enticing students to engineering disciples, increasing competency and innovation
  • being more proactive through investment and engagement in research centres, research programmes and oversees analogy studies
  • having a longer-term vision with clear and strategic policies, frameworks and guidance documents
  • the use of information modelling systems to help predict vulnerability
  • building resilience to extreme climate change and man made threats
  • managing resources sustainably and staying attentive to market demands
  • accepting and promoting information sharing mechanisms.